Village residents go on hunger strike over damage from alleged earthquake-like drilling explosions
- The hunger strike came after earthquake-like tremors of a 4 magnitude in Zharrez village suspected to have been caused by underground drilling operations caused damage to dozens of houses including a local school. "It's almost two years this situation has been going on but the Dec. 18 midnight explosion was huge and everybody ran out of their homes," a protester has said
TIRANA, Dec. 26 – Ten residents of the Zharrez village in the southwestern district of Fier, have been staging a huger strike since the evening of Dec. 20 protesting what they say dangerous drilling operations involving underground explosions that have put their lives at risk and caused considerable material damage to their property. The local residents blame Canada-based Bankers Petroleum, the country’s largest oil producer which in Sept. 2016 was taken over by a Chinese company, for the damage.
The hunger strike came after earthquake-like tremors of a 4 magnitude in Zharrez village suspected to have been caused by underground drilling operations caused damage to dozens of houses including a local school.
“It’s almost two years this situation has been going on but the Dec. 18 midnight explosion was huge and everybody ran out of their homes,” a protester earlier told the public broadcaster, RTSH.
Six MPs of the Fier region, the country’s second largest constituency with a population of 310,000 residents, have also sent a request to Prime Minister Edi Rama to set up a commission to verify and provide a solution to the emergency situation.
The MPs from the ruling and opposition forces demand the declaration of an emergency state and the immediate compensation of damage to guarantee living conditions for the affected households, some of whom have had their houses severely damaged.
Earlier on Friday as the residents were on their third day of hunger strike, Energy Minister Damian Gjiknuri ordered Bankers Petroleum to immediately suspend their water flood enhanced oil recovery operations until second notice.
As the residents entered their sixth day of hunger strike on Monday and their medical condition deteriorates, efforts to mediate a solution have failed.
There has been no reaction by Bankers Petroleum which has also stopped updates about its Albania operations on its website in the past few months.
The Zharrez residents also staged a hunger strike three years ago in Dec. 2013 which they quit in less than 24 hours after they were promised compensation for the damage incurred from a previous drilling explosion.
Back in April 2015, Canada-based Bankers Petroleum came under come under fire over meeting safety and contractual obligations following the eruption of water and gas from two of its oil wells, which caused property damage and forced the evacuation of about 70 local households in Marinze village, Fier,
Following the blast, state inspectors identified violations in waste management and pollution of water resources also affecting agricultural products and social and health problems caused to local residents.
While Canada-based Bankers Petroleum has quit Albania after more than a decade of operations, the Albanian government has decided to settle its $57 million dispute with the Canadian company at an Arbitration court. The decision came after an expert panel led by PwC, one of the Big Four auditors, ordered the Albanian government to pay back Canada-based Bankers Petroleum $37 million, $20 million less than Bankers was initially supposed to pay in instalments.
The initial $57 million tax dispute involved $250 million in disputed costs from the company’s operations in 2011.
Bankers Petroleum, which has recently been taken over by China’s Geo Jade for C$575 million (€392 mln), posted record high losses of about $34 million in the first half of this year due to a slump in international oil prices affecting oil production, exports and government revenue.
Since late 2015, Bankers Petroleum has delayed new drilling, saying that activity will resume as soon as pricing improves.
Bankers Petroleum suffered losses of $3.6 million in 2015 when oil prices almost halved following record high profits of about $129 million in 2014.
Since 2004, Bankers operates and has the full rights to develop the Patos-Marinza and Kuçova heavy oilfields under a 25-year concession contract with the Albanian government. The Patos-Marinza oilfield is the largest onshore oilfield in continental Europe, holding approximately 5.4 billion barrels of original oil in place. The Kuçova field has 297 million barrels of original-oil-in-place.